Venezuela Update: 1 May, 2019

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Opposition supporters staged mass protests for the second consecutive day in Caracas and around the country. Opposition leader and interim national leader Juan Guaido addressed his supporters today and vowed to continue the demonstrations every day “to achieve freedom.” He also stated that a series of staggered strikes will begin tomorrow and evolve into a general strike by the end of the week. Guaido’s pushing forward and is almost single-handedly keeping the effort going. Quite honestly, the uprising has not gone as well as Guaido had hoped or expected. Contrary to his hopes, the majority of Venezuela’s senior military leaders have not given their support to the opposition. Two days of demonstrations, and sometimes violent clashes with government forces has not budged Nicolas Maduro. It is safe to say now that the military uprising was stillborn. Guaido and the opposition will have to keep the pressure on the Maduro regime without the backing of Venezuela’s armed forces and its leadership.

Maduro has Russia and Cuba to thank for his remaining in power. Their support is all that is keeping him from being deposed, and if Moscow and Havana waiver, Maduro will suffer. This does not seem probable though, especially considering that Maduro was about to leave the country before the Russians convinced him to remain. Unless the opposition manages to retake the initiative and apply significant pressure on the Maduro regime by this weekend, Guaido’s masterstroke will be considered a failure. At that time, the geopolitical dimensions will retake centerstage and the next move in this crisis will be orchestrated in Washington DC, not Caracas.

Venezuela Update #2: Geopolitics Taking Center Stage

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The sun is setting in Venezuela and the whereabouts of Juan Guaido and Nicolas Maduro are unknown for the moment. Maduro has not been seen in public all day. The Venezuelan strongman is likely in a secure location outside of the city, and even more likely under the protection of Russian and Cuban troops. Guaido’s current location is not known either. If the uprising is in fact bogging down, he needs to be seen out in public to rally the troops, so to speak. There are certainly security concerns for him right now as well, but the risks may have to be taken.

 

A tweet by opposition politician Antonio Ledezma claims Leopoldo Lopez has not requested asylum from Chile and is no longer at the Chilean embassy. Ledezma’s tweet contradicts earlier reports that Ledezma had requested political asylum from Chilean officials at the embassy.

 

Geopolitical activity has ramped up through the late afternoon and early evening. President Trump is warning Cuba to end its military support for the Maduro regime or face economic sanctions, and a full embargo. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed in an earlier interview on CNN that the Washington has indications Maduro was actually prepared to depart Venezuela but the Russians convinced him to stay. If this turns out to be accurate it brings into question the level of commitment Russia has for keeping Maduro in power. More importantly, it leads Washington to wonder just how deep that commitment will go if the uprising continues. For its part, Moscow has claimed the US is trying to undermine a Russian ally, a statement entirely open to interpretation.

Venezuela Update: Uprising Losing Steam?

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The latest news coming out of Caracas does not bode well for Juan Guaido and the opposition. Right now it appears the uprising could be bogged down, perhaps fatally. There are reports that Leopoldo Lopez, a senior opposition leader, has arrived at the Chilean embassy in Caracas with his family and is requesting asylum. This report came on the heels of similar ones indicating ‘senior’ Venezuelan military officers have requested asylum at the Brazilian embassy. A third report, yet to be entirely confirmed, has stated soldiers supporting the opposition have surrendered and claimed they were involved in the uprising only after being deceived by soldiers who had deserted in the past weeks and months. Perhaps the most worrisome report for Guaido and the opposition comes from a well known Venezuelan reporter who claims the launch date was pushed forward amid rumors circulating of Guaido’s imminent arrest. The military support was not as strong as expected, or perhaps the military backed out almost entirely.

In any case, it seems the majority of Venezuelan soldiers have either not yet chosen a side or continue to support Maduro. The coming hours should offer strong indications of the direction the attempted uprising will take, and what the fate of Juan Guaido will be.

Cuban’s Efforts in Venezuela Attract US Attention

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As Venezuelans endure their nation’s second major power outage in a month, and recently arrived Russian troops go to work on the ground, the United States is beginning to scrutinize Cuba’s role in the Venezuelan crisis. The Trump administration has said publicly that Cuba is the prime reason Nicolas Maduro remains in power. Havana’s support for Maduro and his government has been essential. The close ties between Venezuela and Cuba reach back to the heady days when Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro ruled. These men, and the nations they led, were socialist brothers fighting the influence of the United States across the Caribbean, and South America.

Their successors are trying desperately to keep the tight relationship from unraveling. As Venezuela’s political and financial situations have spiraled out of control, it’s more dependent on Cuba’s aid than ever before. Unfortunately for Cuba, its moves in Venezuela are starting to attract US attention at a point where the stakes are growing high. The US has gathered and unleashed a heavy salvo of diplomatic and economic pressure on Nicolas Maduro’s government to punish, and eventually dismantle it once and for all. The efforts of Cuba, and a handful of nation-states outside of the Western Hemisphere, are working on the opposite hand to keep Venezuela afloat, and diminish the effect US sanctions, and diplomatic pressure are having.

Cuba has been present and active the longest. Its influence is felt on many levels of Venezuelan life. Cuban doctors have been working to prop up Venezuela’s failing medical system. Cuban military advisers have been training the Venezuelan military, and in some instances Cuban officers have assumed command responsibilities in some of Venezuela’s most capable combat units. There are reports that Venezuela’s military strategy is shifting towards fighting a ‘prolonged asymmetrical war’ against a US invasion, and this doctrinal change was made by Cuban military advisers.

How the US chooses to combat Cuba’s influence remains to be seen. Despite a brief warming of relations between Havana, and Washington during the later Obama years, relations are icy once again. The Trump administration does not regard Cuba as a potential ally like the Obama administration had. President Trump, and his national security team regard Cuba as an unrepentant agitator, and supporter of left-wing regimes across the hemisphere. If US policies and actions aimed at Maduro end up having a negative effect on Cuba, the Trump administration will not lose any sleep over it. If bringing down Maduro can help destabilize the Cuban government, the United States is all for it.

The difficult part for Washington will be identifying the right opportunity when it comes along.

Venezuela Update: 15 March, 2019

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On Thursday the last remaining US diplomats in Venezuela departed. The US flag was lowered and the embassy locked up. The embassy staff that had remained in Caracas were being removed because they had become a ‘constraint’ on US policy. There was growing concern in Washington that Venezuelan authorities would eventually target a US diplomat for harassment, or arrest. With the embassy cleared out now, it is no longer an issue. The State Department has also issued a travel advisory warning  US citizens not to travel to Venezuela now that the United States cannot offer any consular services for them in the event they need it.

Power has been restored to some parts of Venezuela but it will be a long time before normal service is restored. Large areas of the country remain without power in the aftermath of a devastating nationwide blackout. Although Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro initially blamed the power issues on a US cyberattack, though it is clear now this was not the case. Damage from  a bush fire near the Malena substation in the eastern part of the country is what brought on the power outage. The blackout spurred protests and looting around Venezuela. Over 300 people were detained by authorities.